The archetypal Phase I case is surmounted by a gilt-brass foliate-tied handle above the cushion domed top, which has pierced sound cut-outs overlaid with silk and applied with chased, gilt-brass, foliate scroll and garland mounts. The sides have glazed apertures between the typical ogee/ovolo main mouldings. The front door has a foliate scroll gilt-brass sound fret to the top rail and bellflower escutcheons to the side stiles, the lower rail with a matching bellflower mount, all standing on later ebonised bun feet.
The 6 inch square gilt-brass dial has three latched dial feet, and is line engraved to the outer edge, interrupted by the signature Tho: Tompion Londini Fecit along the lower section. The centre has very fine matting with the winding square above VI. The corners are mounted with finely-chased winged-cherub spandrels, while the dial-plate is applied with a typical early silvered chapter ring; with small Arabic minutes, outside their division ring, the double figures with a centre line between, the Roman hours are interspersed by sword-hilt half-hour marks, the well pierced blued-steel hands have Tompion’s trademark stepped collar to the reverse.
The very substantial timepiece movement has heavy brass plates with six latched baluster pillars. Single gut fusee and spring barrel, verge escapement, the knife-edge mounted in the cross-hatched backcock with a brass-rod pendulum and calibrated bob, punch numbered 1 to 4. The silent pull-quarter repeat system, cocked via Tompion’s early Z-bar repeat lever and operating from either side, the hours struck on the larger bell mounted above and the quarters on the smaller bell below. The extended backplate has a line engraved outer with profuse tulip decoration within scrolling foliage by ‘the Tulip engraver’, the signature within a rectangular reserve Tho= Tompion Londini Fecit and punched numbered 42 twice: once in the top left corner and again at the base in the centre.
Percy Webster, Great Portland Street, London W1, 1940s;
JH Millar Esq., St. James’ Street, London W1, 1954;
Vitale & Vitale collection U.S.A. sold Christies, 26th November 1996, Vitale sale part II, lot 244;
Private collection UK.
Symonds, Thomas Tompion, His life and work, 1951. p.147, 194, 214 & 280 figs. 114, 175 & 211;
De Carle, Clocks and Their Value, 1968, listed;
Hobson (ed. Harvey & Allix), Hobson’s Choice, 1982, p.12;
Antiquarian Horology, Volume 19, Winter 1991, Vitale & Vitale collection;
Evans, Thomas Tompion at the Dial and Three Crowns, 2006, p.72;
Evans, Carter & Wright, Thomas Tompion 300 Years, 2013, p.151 & 599.
Height: 12½ inches; width 6½ inches; depth 5½ inches
The Vitale Tompion, no.42, is an exemplary early numbered timepiece, the movement is extremely well preserved, retaining its original escapement and silent pull-quarter repeat system.
There are only thirty-one Phase 1 timepieces currently recorded and a number are in museum collections; Tompion no.10, is in the Smithsonian, Washington, but has been re-veneered in turtleshell; Tompion no.15 is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, which has had a gallery added to the case; while Tompion no.35, in the Victoria & Albert Museum, is very similar to Tompion no.42 and is in likewise good, visibly unaltered, condition.
Tompion’s early Phase 1 clocks feature large extended backplates that entirely fill out the back of the case, invariably decorated by ‘the Tulip engraver’, employed by Tompion from c.1675 to c.1690 (Thomas Tompion 300 Years, 2013, p.176). The larger hour bell was usually visible and its outer surface turned-down, tuned and polished, meanwhile the smaller quarter bell (invisible from the rear) was tuned, but often left ‘in the raw’, as evidenced by the sand-cast finish on the surface of the original quarter bell on Tompion no.42 (see the underdial image above).
From c.1680, Tompion experimented with various ways to allow repeating from both sides of the case. Initially, he used a slide repeat mounted between the plates and through slots in the backplate but due to the additional friction, this quickly proved to be flawed. The last spring clock to utilise the slide repeat was no.37. The Z-bar lever, seen here on no.42, was conceived as the most practical and satisfactory solution and continued in use until c.1690 (Thomas Tompion 300 Years, 2013, p.165).
The two punch numbers on the backplate of no.42 are interesting; Tompion began numbering in a slightly random fashion, using both small and large punches, usually on the movements or cases but occasionally both (see early numbered list in Thomas Tompion 300 Years, 2013, page 151). If stamped at all, his earliest movements were generally punched at the top left corner of the backplate, often using the smaller stamps. No.42 is stamped with the larger numerals and is the last recorded with a number to the top left. This stamping is very light, and under the engraving, but the second number at the base is much more clearly stamped, and away from decoration. The light stamping of the top-left number might suggest that the movement was being finished at the time Tompion was determining and homogenising positioning; the clear central base number soon becoming Tompion’s settled movement number position.
The Vitale Tompion no.42, circa 1684
A very fine Charles II ebony Phase 1 table timepiece with silent pull-quarter repeat by Thomas Tompion, London